Rider vents frustrations after CATS bus doesn’t show up on several occasions

WBTV made CATS aware of the issues with his bus. He said there were still problems with reliability and sometimes the bus not coming at all.
Buses that are late – or don't show up at all. That's what a WBTV investigation found after we got a tip about problems with CATS city buses.
Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 5:50 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2022 at 8:35 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Brian Williams has finally gotten back on his feet after the pandemic cost him more than most can imagine. Now, he’s relying on Charlotte Area Transit System buses to get him back and forth from his new job.

But on several occasions, the bus he needs to get to work on time hasn’t shown up at all.

Now a WBTV Investigation is leading to changes in how CATS handles driver vacancies and delivers information on its app.

“I lost my place, lost my job due to COVID, I was forced to take the transportation system a lot longer than I expected to take,” Williams told WBTV.

WBTV followed along with Brian Williams one day as he used the bus to get from the hotel where he lives to his job at Southpark Mall.

“Do you feel like you can count on this bus,” a WBTV reporter asked Williams.

“No,” Williams said.

Eventually, Williams reached out to Charlotte City Councilmembers to vent his frustrations. It ended up landing him a spot on a panel about equity in transit but even after

WBTV made CATS aware of the issues with his bus, Williams said there were still problems with reliability and sometimes the bus not coming at all.

When the bus doesn’t show up, Williams has to find another way to work.

“When I have to take an Uber I’m pissed off,” Williams said. “Because I’m trying to save money and get myself out of this situation.”

Since January 1, Williams says he’s had to find a different way to work at least half a dozen times because of buses not arriving on time or at all.

In addition to Williams, CATS has faced recent criticism from students at UNC-Charlotte, who have also complained about the bus’s lack of reliability.

“It’s not the system, it’s the people that are running the system that are doing stuff wrong and until they fix those people, nothing is going to change,” Williams said.

WBTV made CATS aware of the issues with his bus. He said there were still problems with reliability and sometimes the bus not coming at all.

WBTV interviewed CATS CEO John Lewis about Williams’s difficulties and what the transit system will do differently to fix the problem.

“What’s your response to him about why he should believe in the bus system?” a WBTV reporter asked Lewis.

“We did talk with Mr. Williams and I’m keenly aware of his problem and of this circumstance and I’m very apologetic for that,” Lewis said.

Lewis said one of the main issues is staffing.

“We’ve got over 40 plus vacancies and bus operations right now that have been 60 days or greater,” Lewis said.

To make up for all those vacancies, Lewis said they’re changing the way they re-assign drivers to fill gaps.

Instead of pulling from routes that only run once per hour, they plan on sacrificing drivers on more frequent routes that have buses every ten minutes.

He also says they’re working with a contractor to provide better real-time information on the CATS app so riders will know if a bus is running late or won’t show up at all.

These changes aimed at shoring up reliability come as Lewis and CATS are trying to sell a one-cent sales tax increase to expand transportation throughout the region.

The strategic mobility plan would require a new one-cent sales tax in Mecklenburg County, which needs approval from the North Carolina General Assembly and Mecklenburg County voters.

Millions of dollars would be specifically earmarked for bus programs including Envision My Ride, 1-77 Rapid Bus Transit and Bus Priority Corridors.

“How are you going to convince people that this extra money is worth it if they don’t have faith in (the system) right now?” a WBTV reporter asked Lewis.

“This is a labor-related issue in the short term. The long-term is about more frequency and that requires more buses, more funding, more operators, and more mechanics,” Lewis said.

But Williams is skeptical.

“The more money you give it, it’s not going to fix any problems because you still have the people that are running it,” Williams said. “They don’t, they care about the money.”

WBTV asked CATS for data on its buses’ on-time performance and how many times bus routes have been without a driver since the beginning of the year.

Some of that information has also been requested by Charlotte City Council, but it has not been provided yet.

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